Two “heads” are within our pioneer area, “William” and “Albert”. William Head being named after Sir William E. Parry, famed British Arctic navigator and explorer. Albert Head was named in honour of Albert, Prince Consort, beloved husband of Queen Victoria. Albert Head, the original Quarantine Station, was found to be very inadequate shortly after its opening in 1883. Insufficient water supply, lack of accommodation for non-ailing passengers, and its easy accessibility by land, were some of the reasons for its bad report, so William Head was chosen as the site for the inspection and control of communicable diseases of people entering Canada.
Ships great and small dropped anchor for inspection through the years till finally modern drugs and international health practices made the station redundant. Such famous square-riggers as the Glory of the Seas and Thermopylae were “cleared” in their time. One of the smallest trans-Pacific vessels to clear was the Chinese junk Amoy, owned by Captain George Waard, the intrepid Danish seaman who sailed his Chinese-built junk from an Amoy shipyard to William Head, together with his Chinese wife, six-year-old son and three Chinese seamen. The Amoy, after being “cleared” by the station, tied up at the float below the Empress Hotel for some time and attracted thousands of visitors. The largest “visitor” to the station was of course, the Queen Elizabeth who, during World War II “cleared” on her way to Esquimalt. The peak year of 1927 saw 1,068 ships inspected.
The station covered 106 acres, and comprised of 42 buildings. Thirteen families were housed on the grounds as staff, who had their own school-cum-chapel. Transportation was often laid on to Victoria by water, on the steam tender Madge.
The hospital could accommodate 49 patients and first class detention accommodation for 120, second class for 90, and third class from 500 to 800. During World War I a total of 80,000 Chinese were passed through William Head in batches of 8,000 to 10,000. They formed labour battalions to work behind the lines and did much of the cleaning up after hostilities ended.
The supervising of Bentinck Island, just off William Head, which held lepers for many years, came under the medical officer at the station. Before Bentinck Island was opened in 1924, lepers were confined to D’Arcy Island, off Swartz Bay, which was first used in 1891. No treatment was extended to the sufferers in the early days, and their deplorable existence, which sometimes lead to escapes, prompted authorities to move the colony to Bentinck Island. As time progressed so did treatment methods and humanitarian care. As medicine progressed, the containment of leprosy was accomplished by new treatments and the island “colony” was closed in 1956. William Head was closed as an inspection station in 1958 and reopened the following year as a Federal Minimum Security prison. When the Quarantine Station was first opened there was no road to it, the only access being by water. In Dr. W. McNaughton-Jones’ report in 1893 he recommended that a telephone be installed to the station, and that the road within the grounds be connected to link with the Metchosin area. Before long a cemetery on the grounds received the mortal remains of many nationalities and is still carefully tended. The station was also a brief stop-over for liberated prisoners of war at the end of World War II, returning from Japanese prison camps. At the present time it is being operated under the name of the “William Head Institute,” a federal medium security penitentiary.
Source: Footprints. Pioneer Families of the Metchosin District, Marion I. Helgesen editor